Monday, 9 December 2013

Frances Ha (2013, Noah Baumbach)

Every so often a film comes along that lifts you off your feet to carry you away on its free spirited saunter. These cinematic bursts of sunshine frequently channel an energy that reflects the time in which they were made, supporting a snapshot of a whole through a singular viewpoint addressed by their protagonists. Frances Ha is one of these joys, a seductive film that breathes the life of and gravitates around the personality of Frances (Greta Gerwig), a 27 year old dancer struggling to navigate through adult life in New York.

Frances is a perfectly good dancer, though not a great one; it's clear in the performances shown that she lacks a certain quality that singles her out in the group. It's sad, really, as she shows an overwhelming amount of heart to accompany her eccentric personality. Being passionate and having some talent isn't enough to get by and when her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) announces she's found another apartment, Frances loses her life partner and security blanket.

Much of the film, co-written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, is concerned with that leap into adult life, that one moment where you become integrated into a path within society whether it be chosen for you or by you. Having to leave things behind is a huge factor of this and a painful one at that; Frances perhaps leant too much on her friend's loving support to make do with her own mediocrity. When the more successful, arguably more driven Sophie makes the first move to leave the nest it's a devastating blow but a necessary learning curve.

This sets off a chain reaction of hardships for the loveable Frances, both financial and interpersonal. As her situation worsens she begins covering up her failures to friends and family with what we would label as little white lies. The film avoids the cliché of a particular strand of comedy where these lies will inevitably bite our protagonist and lead to awkward scenes of revealing truths. That's not a concern here, Frances's need to hide the truth is the cutting issue and seeing her struggle with honest is heartbreaking and all too true. When running into an old friend/acquaintance, who hasn't exaggerated or omitted certain details to hide where they really are in life? This happens all the more with family as expectation are more rife there.

Watching Frances attempting to make a life for herself is a joyous and yet painful experience due to  how quickly we're made to fall in love with her. Gerwig has a wonderful presence on the screen, so earthy and angelic while retaining a rawer quality that prevents a saccharine overload. If you hadn't fallen in love with her in Baumbach's previous film Greenberg you certainly will here. The mixture of Frances's vivacity against the film's melancholic monochrome photography lends an emotionally edgy aspect that increases the impact of certain standout sequences. Nothing this year has quite filled me with the same amount of joy as seeing Frances running through the streets of New York, sporadically bursting into dance as David Bowie's 'Modern Love' pumps over the soundtrack.

Your friends may always be there for you but life won't slow down for you, this is something Frances comes to learn, a universal lesson that we all get to eventually. Baumbach and Gerwig's film looks into what it means to be a young adult in 2013 and finds that the world a rather undefined place. What do most of the other people in this film actually work at? A never ending source of money and a laptop never too far aids these people while Frances knows what she wants and struggles to get it amid this sea of apathy. She's a simple creature with a simple goal, a vulnerable way to be in an ever changing, ever advancing world.

Frances Ha looks from a distance, or on the surface like yet another moody indie flick about arrested youth, but up close viewing experience it's actually lighting in a bottle. Film has a communicative quality that is held over other art forms and sometimes one comes along that speaks to you, says 'whenever you feel hopeless, whenever you feel you're going through this alone, remember that is never the case'. This is one of those films, one as joyous and sad as Frances because she is all of us, the best of us.

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